Tom Brady's Appeal Goes Hard After Roger Goodell

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Tom Brady has appealed his four-game suspension for being “generally aware” of two Patriots staffers’ schemes to illegally deflate footballs, and we learned this morning that the appeal will be heard by none other than Roger Goodell himself. That hearing is going to get really awkward when Goodell is called to testify as a witness.


The NFLPA has made public its formal notice of appeal (a full copy of that letter can be read at bottom), and it gives us the first confirmation of how the union plans to attack the suspension.

The first argument makes a bold claim: that executive VP Troy Vincent doesn’t actually have the authority to hand down suspensions. (Ironic, since no one believes Goodell didn’t run the show here, but put Vincent’s name on the sanctions to preserve the illusion of his own impartiality.)

The CBA grants the Commissioner—and only the Commissioner—the authority to impose conduct detrimental discipline on players. CBA, Art. 46, § 1(a); id., App. A, ¶ 15.


Indeed, whereas the CBA expressly authorizes the Commissioner to delegate his authority to serve as Hearing Officer over Article 46 appeals, after consultation with the NFLPA, it contains no corresponding provision authorizing the Commissioner to delegate his exclusive role to impose conduct detrimental discipline to you or anyone else. You have no authority to impose discipline on Mr. Brady under the CBA, and such discipline must therefore be set aside.


You can read the CBA yourself: Article 46 specifically gives the commissioner power to delegate responsibility for determining punishment to someone else only for “fines or suspensions imposed upon players for unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct on the playing field.” It’s a long CBA, and I’m sure there is language elsewhere that the NFL will use to argue Goodell acted correctly in handing off the beating stick to Troy Vincent. But it’ll come down to the hearing officer’s interpretation—and the hearing officer is Roger Goodell.

The NFLPA’s second argument is that giving Brady four games has no precedent, and in fact flies in the face of anything resembling consistent punishment.

Your decision to suspend Mr. Brady for four games — i.e. , one-quarter of the NFL season — for his alleged “general[] aware[ness] of the actions of the Patriots ’ employees involved in the deflation of the footballs” and “failure to cooperate fully and candidly with the [Wells] investigation” is grossly inconsistent with the League’s prior disciplinary treatment of similar alleged conduct, including lack of cooperation and not complying with League rules regarding game balls or other equipment.

The law of the shop from Bounty, Rice, and other proceedings requires that this unfair and inconsistent treatment of Mr. Brady — an exponential change in the severity of the punishment without notice or due process — be vacated. Indeed, no player in the history of the NFL has ever received anything approaching this level of discipline for similar behavior — a change in sanctions squarely forbidden by the CBA and the law of the shop.

It is no surprise that the NFLPA keeps invoking the Ray Rice and Saints’ bounty cases, two instances where the commissioner’s initial decisions were changed, overturned, and generally judged absurd. (The letter also mentions decision to indefinitely suspend Adrian Peterson, which was thrown out by a federal judge.)

The third argument goes after the Wells Report itself, claiming it “contains insufficient evidence” to convict Brady, and “is wrought with unsupported speculation...and grasps at dubious, contradictory and mischaracterized circumstantial evidence.”


The letter closes by notifying Vincent and Goodell that they will be called as witnesses.

Please be advised that the NFLPA and Mr. Brady intend to call both you [Vincent] and Commissioner Goodell as essential witnesses in the proceeding. You both will be called upon to testify about, among other things, the circumstances surrounding the purported delegation of disciplinary authority from Commissioner Goodell to you in this matter and the factual basis for that purported delegation. You also will both be required to testify about when you became aware of the Colts’ complaints about ball deflation and what decisions and steps were thereafter taken to set up what may have been a “sting operation” to try to implicate the Patriots and Mr. Brady. The latter conduct would present an additional ground for setting aside the discipline imposed.

Further, your personal involvement in the game-day events surrounding this matter render you inherently biased in any disciplinary determination (see, e.g., Report at 64-72). All of these facts will require your testimony at the hearing.


By rule, Brady’s appeal hearing must be held within 10 days of yesterday’s filing. It’s going to be fun.